Dear all,
I have heard dancers say to me, "Well at least this is good experience for becoming an artist. I can't develop if I don't suffer." Among the "experiences" dancers have justified to me in the name of suffering are being verbally abused by a teacher, fighting an injury, and being emotionally manipulated by peers. 
Young dancers don't come up with the idea that suffering is good on their own. That kind of warped trope comes from centuries of romanticizing the suffering artist. It's definitely not right and it's time to ditch it. Scroll down to the Wellness Tool section to read about an approach we can advocate for instead. 

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** Keep scrolling down for more thoughts on the suffering artist! **

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     Wellness Tool: Rethink Suffering  

One person I have heard openly and effectively debunk the myth of the suffering artist is Elizabeth Gilbert, the author best known for her best-selling novel Eat Pray Love. In her book, Big Magic, she cautions creative people to not glorify their suffering or make the mistake of attributing their success to it.
She says we should be wary of the "lure of the Tormented Artist because sometimes it's a persona." It can be a seductive and romantic persona as well, which can be hard to shake, once one gets caught up in playing it. Furthermore, she believes "...that our creativity grows like sidewalk weeds out of the cracks between our pathologies, not from the pathologies themselves." (p.211)
This image immediately brought to mind the neurotic star of the movie, Black Swan: an isolated, perfectionist dancer who will happily die in exchange for a perfect performance. It brought to mind coaches who push exhausted dancers for perfection, regardless of the emotional and physical costs. 
Like Gilbert, I say, I don't buy it. I didn't buy it when I was studying, I didn't buy it from artistic directors or choreographers, and I don't buy it now.
Suffering is not necessary to become an artist. What's more, it's a massive distraction from the work. When the artist in question is a budding dancer, there is A LOT of work to do. That work requires emotional stability, regular self-care, and a high sense of self-worth.
 So what do you offer your dancer instead?
What Gilbert suggests is a real shift in mindset for most dancers. She approaches her work with "stubborn gladness" - a joyful heart that is grateful for the chance to be creative. She suggests a more playful attitude, one that assumes the artist has this gift for a reason, and that reason is not to spend life suffering. She also doesn't get caught up in suffering mostly because it has never made her better at what she does. 

I suggest that dancers try to distance themselves emotionally from their work so that mistakes and problems aren't about them personally, but about their work. When an inability to nail a combination is about being a failed person, that can lead to despair. When it's about not having found the solution yet, it's about the work. 

I tell my dancers, get curious instead of frustrated. And when they do, they experience overwhelmingly better results. 

Sufferers aren't curious. They're too busy feeling bad about themselves. Being curious requires letting go of some of that emotional attachment and making room for play, discovery, and problem solving. 

Think this is something your dancer would benefit from? Afraid she might not listen if it comes from you? I hear you. Please head over to my website to schedule a Discovery Session with me. We can get started on this and many other tools to help your dancer become mentally fit.

Questions about what you've read? Stop by the
Facebook Group to post your question or send me an email by clicking on the envelope below.

Copyright © 2016 - Elizabeth A. Sullivan - Coaching dancers in NYC & around the world since 2011.

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The Dancer's Toolkit · 240 Kent Ave., 2nd Fl. B5 · Brooklyn, NY 11211 · USA

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